I am an enemy to all these douceurs [bribes], tributes & humiliations. what the laws impose on us let us execute faithfully; but nothing more … Congress [should receive] a full statement of every expence which our transactions with the Barbary powers has occasioned, & of what we still owe, that they may be enabled to decide, on a full view of the subject, what course they will pursue. I know that nothing will stop the eternal increase of demand from these pirates but the presence of an armed force, and it will be more economical & more honorable to use the same means at once for suppressing their insolencies
To James Madison, August 28, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders stand up to bullies.
For decades, the city-states of North Africa had preyed upon shipping in the Mediterranean. They demanded annual payment from those ships’ home nations, or they would capture the vessels and hold sailors for ransom. Jefferson had first encountered this offense in the 1780s as America’s ambassador to France and again in the 1790s as Secretary of State and Vice-President. Now as President he was confronted with even more offense. One of the Barbary states commandeered an American ship and its crew to run errands for them.
As chief executive, he was bound by Congress’ will, and they had put the problem off year after year. He was tired of both Barbary offenses and Congressional inaction. He wanted the full cost of American acquiescence presented to Congress, hoping it would shock them into finally funding a strong military response.
Jefferson knew that was only effective way to end the piracy. It would cost more up front but less than bribes, ransoms and the resulting dishonor year after year. His administration took the first decisive and victorious action against the North African nations, but it would be 15 more years before the pirates were finally defeated.